By Steve Urmano
If you’re thinking about getting into dye-sublimation printing, consider that the type of equipment, inks, post-processing equipment and size of investment is greatly influenced by applications and end-user requirements.
The sublimation printing process can be done in two ways. The most popular method uses sublimation transfer paper, in which printed paper is placed into a heat press that presses the image on the paper to the final material. This method has offered the greatest ink transfer efficiency and the sharpest image resolution.
Direct dye-sublimation printing applies ink directly to the substrate, and then in a separate step, heat-sets the ink into the material. This process is more efficient and faster than the transfer method, but, at this time, doesn’t offer the same image quality. However, for signage that is viewed from more than eight feet, the images appear very sharp.
Transfer printing using paper allows for more variety of media and applications, allows printing on non-fabric materials, and allows for printing on 3-D surfaces.
Direct printing requires no transfer paper, which means no paper cost or waste; avoids cockling of the transfer paper, which negatively affects image quality; allows more efficient workflow and print speeds; saves time and money disposing of transfer paper; and works best for banners, flags, POP, and tradeshow graphics on fabric.
A calendar heat press is required to heat-set the materials. Images that are directly printed on the media appear muted or dull until heat-set. The heat sets the ink into the media by turning it into a gas that enters the substrate, in effect dying it.
Format size determines printer size. Printer prices climb steeply when you move past 64-inch width. For example, the 64-inch Mimaki JV33-160 without additional features is priced at $19,995 MSRP, while a 104-inch JV33-260, which can print at 130 square feet per hour, is $49,995. Increasing throughput increases the cost of the equipment. For instance, Mimaki’s JV5 series prints from 430 square feet per hour to 650 square feet per hour with a cost of $44,995 for the 64-inch model and $119,995 for the 128-inch model.
In the past, industry members were intimidated by the complexity of dye-sublimation printing. This view is quickly changing as more companies enter the competitive arena for wide-format printers, print media, inks, and post-processing equipment. The image results are stunning and are perceived as higher value than vinyl banners and static signs.
As the wide-format market matures, dye-sublimation is just another application area that is developing quickly in today’s digital age.